Monday, June 29, 2015

Mom-ing Through Faith: On Discipline, Part 1

Every momma makes her own choices from the moment her baby takes his/her first breath: To breastfeed or not? To co-sleep or not? To cry it out or not? To vaccinate or not? To homeschool or not? To require extra-curricular work or not? To buy a teenager a car or not? To offer rewards for good grades or not? 

Each of us makes our own, individual momma decisions each and every day. And every momma is unique. And every child is unique. 


There is one unifying issue that we ALL face: Discipline. 

That being said, though, there are a great many ways to discipline. And SO many questions and opinions on how to do it "right." 

What I present now (and over the next few weeks) is MY opinion. It's information that I find helpful. These are strategies that I use when parenting. I present this information not only as a momma of three who is 5.5 years into this parenting gig (which is still very much "rookie" status compared to the many mommas who have raised teenagers and beyond. Trust me, I have several mommas in my life who are rockin' the late childhood/preteen/teenager phase who I look up to and will be constantly soliciting for advice when the time comes), but also as someone who is doctorate-level trained in child and family psychology with lots of experience in helping children with severe emotional and behavioral disorders, which included lots and lots of parent training. So. Not only is this research-, training-, and educationally-based, but also (and maybe most importantly), experience-based. 

One caveat: My children are not perfect. Why in the WORLD would they be? Am I perfect? Absolutely not. So why in the WORLD would I expect perfection from my children? Or from myself? I don't. So. Please do not assume I have this whole momma thing down pat. I am NOT EVEN CLOSE.

As a Christian, I think the greatest thing we can offer ourselves as mommas is GRACE. We should not only allow, but be okay with, making mistakes. And allow the same courtesy for our children. Because not only are we on a lifelong learning journey as mommas, but our children are on their own learning journey, learning what is okay and what is not okay behavior. Mistakes are a crucial part of that journey.

Also, remember that last post? The one about gifts? Well, my gifts do NOT include cooking. They do NOT include interior design. They do NOT include  business-mindedness. They do NOT include spontaneity. Nope. But I do have experience in working with kiddos and their families. So. Hopefully, the training and experiences I've had will prove helpful to others. But also, please feel free to chime in via Facebook commentary if you have specific questions or other advice or opinions. Because, again, I want this to be a COMMUNITY forum, where we help one another, ranging from mommas of newborns to mommas of college-bound kiddos.  It takes a village, right?

Anywho, this is going to be a multiple weeks kind of topic because, well, it needs to be. There is just SO MUCH to dive into that it would be information overload to include it all in one post. In fact, it's hard to even type as fast as my thoughts are running right now, and I just can't WAIT to share all this information that is filling my child psychology-lovin' noggin. So. Off we go!

I want to start with something that I heard in an Andy Stanley sermon on parenting (this is an AMAZING sermon, by the way, that he presented alongside his wife, if you have any time to watch or listen). It has HUGELY impacted the way I view parenting ever since I heard it a couple years ago. 

Basically, Andy and Sandra talk about how our role as parental disciplinarians changes across age-defined stages throughout our children's development. Specifically, 

Ages 1-5: The Discipline Years. This stage is crucial in teaching our children right from wrong. These are the years when we will often feel like we are disciplining our children all.the.time. These are the years we are "in the trenches." These are very demanding years, as we are constantly shaping, modifying, and teaching appropriate behaviors. We are outlining rules and expectations and handing down consequences to help our children learn what is okay and what is not okay. But here's the thing, and this is IMPORTANT: not handling this stage of discipline effectively can have an adverse and long-lasting impact on later stages of development if the hard work of effectively disciplining is not done NOW. This is not the time to try to be your child's friend. This is not the time to strive to be well-liked by your child. If this stage is done correctly, you are setting the stage for a lifelong friendship with your child, albeit when that time in life comes (see below). This certainly doesn't mean we can't have fun with our children, make loving and lasting memories with them, and enjoy them. But. It is of GREAT importance that persistent and consistent disciplinary methods take precedence. When asked to define my parenting, I always say I am "firm but loving." I offer lots of praise and am a play-on-my-hands-and-knees and be present and fun kind of momma, but I am also not afraid to be strict and firm when I need to be. More on that later. And I am going to spend a good deal of time outlining much more about what I mean by "effective" discipline in the upcoming weeks. So, make sure you stick around...

Ages 5-12: The Training Years. Now it's time to work alongside our children, helping to train them to make good choices based on what they learned during the disciplinary stage. They will still need a good bit of help and guidance, but more in the form of reminders and revisiting previously learned lessons rather than constant, hands-on discipline. They are inherently given more independence as they enter the formal schooling years, which is why it is critical that appropriate disciplinary methods are used during those early years--in the hopes that they will take what they have learned and begin to be able to apply it without having a parent looking over their shoulders at all times. 

Ages 12-18: The Coaching Years. This may be an especially hard stage for "helicopter" parents (and trust me, I need to really work on pulling my plane away by the time I reach this stage!), as children are afforded much more trust to use what they have learned throughout childhood as they continue to gain independence. We parents are now the "coaches": giving them encouragement and guidance from afar (but, of course, being ready, willing, and able to step in when needed). Again, this is why it is critical to get the discipline right from the get-go; otherwise, behavior can regress as independence is gained.

Ages 18+: The Friendship Years. Now is the time for friendship. As our children leave the nest in pursuit of their own dreams and desires, we can take on the role of a friend, a confidant, a trusted and well-loved companion, while, of course, also being available to offer sound advice and help and guidance as needed. As Andy and Sandra say, "later is longer." While it would be much easier and more fun to take on this friend role earlier in life, those early years are such a short period of time in their life. Why not set them up for success by using effective discipline early on, especially since "later is longer" (meaning the 18+ stage clearly lasts for a longer time, allowing more time for true friendship for the remainder of life, especially if discipline is effectively introduced and maintained early on).

Whew. I think that's enough to chew on for this week. I have SO MUCH planned on this very important topic of discipline, including very specific recommendations and strategies that can be put to use immediately. In fact, next week, I'll present what I consider to be the CARDINAL RULE of parenting; so please make sure to check back in next Monday as Mom-ing Through Faith continues...

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6.

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